Trent’s Top 10 of 2019

I always enjoy making this year-end list as it provides me an opportunity to reflect on another year of reading, and reflection quickly turns into contemplating future reading. I highly recommend it.  It is highly satisfying to revisit titles you have enjoyed and to consider your plans for reading in the new year, be it more broadly, more deeply, or another goal.

Like many of my colleagues, I have struggled to keep my list to ten titles and included additional notables at the end.

 

10. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead – Olga Tokarczuk

42983724Janina is, to be kind, a bit of an odd duck. She lives alone in rural Poland, and when one of her very few neighbors is found dead, Janina instinctively knows why. The animals, obviously, have sought revenge on the neighbor for his cruel hunting activities. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead makes the reader listen to someone we might be guilty of otherwise ignoring or marginalizing. Olga Tokarcruk was belatedly awarded the Noble Prize in Literature for 2018 in November 2019, and I am excited to read more of her translated work.

 

9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Vol 1: High School is Hell – Jordie Bellaire

indexThis is Buffy rebooted, and, much to my surprise, it starts off with a lot of promise. The last few seasons have been either lackluster with brief respites or terrible. So, I was interested but skeptical that rebooting the series by a new creative team back to Buffy’s first days at Sunnydale High would succeed. The comic does a nice job reinventing all the main characters but keeping them recognizable to fans that have continued to follow the series. Here’s hoping the good work continues.

 

8. Normal People – Sally Rooney

normalThough I posted a review of Normal People on “What We’re Reading Now…” in May, I still find myself occasionally thinking back to this book. It has made me, on occasion, consider things from a different perspective. While Normal People was generally rife with upsettingly poor decision making by everyone – it was at the same time believable and relatable. And, if I am still thinking about the book seven months later, then it’s bound to be on a top ten list.

 

7. Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

index (1)I picked this up off an inn’s bookshelf six years ago when in Vermont for a wedding. By the time I had to go join the wedding festivities I had read a good third of the book and was really enjoying it. Though every few months I would remember that I had wanted to check out a copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God and read it in its entirety, it took far too long to return to. Beautifully written and a work I should have been introduced to in high school.

 

6. The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

index (2)I included The Raven Tower in March’s “What We’re Reading Now…”  Leckie creates a fascinating world shown from an unexpected perspective.  I really enjoy how the author plays with language and perception.

 

 
5. The Real Cool Killers – Chester Himes

index (3)The Real Cool Killers is a classic 1950s hardboiled detective novel. Though instead of L.A., Marlowe, and femme fatales, it is Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed and in Harlem where the cynicism isn’t shrouded in glitz.

I did include the excellent A Rage in Harlem by Himes, which introduces Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed, in an earlier “What We’re Reading Now…

 

4. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: The Complete Series – Hayao Miyazaki

index (4)Set many years after biological warfare has destroyed most of the planet, opposing forces are set mustering for a war that may destroy what remains. Nausicaä, called to serve in her father’s place, has the unique ability to communicate with the fearsome creatures that inhabit the changed world. Using her abilities, Nausicaä must fight to preserve what is left of the world around her.  Miyazaki will leave you thinking deeply about how we interact with the world around us, environmentalism, war, and more. Not to mention the art is sublime.

3. A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

index (5).jpgI kept putting off reading A Gentleman in Moscow even though a coworker kept insisting I go read it immediately, because, honestly, how worth it could be to slog through 500 pages of some guy being sequestered in a hotel for decades? I saw no reason to suffer right along with Count Rostov. She was right, it is a wonderful book, and if you have not read it, you should go do so right now. You will not suffer, instead, you will find unexpected joy right alongside the Count.

 

2. Beware, Beware – Step Cha

index (6)Juniper Song is a devotee of Phillip Marlowe, and in her first appearance in Steph Cha’s excellent Follow Her Home Juniper’s only experience as a P.I. is from what she has learned in Chandler novels.  Juniper, now employed with a investigate firm as an understudy working towards becoming a licensed investigator, has some real-life experience under her belt when a case she’s asked to work quickly turns into a Hollywood murder scandal.  Juniper Song is the modern-day Marlowe we deserve.

 

1. Convenience Store Woman – Sayaka Murata

index (7)I read this a week or two after posting last year’s Top 10, and I have been eagerly waiting to put it on this list since. Keiko has a hard time relating to societal expectations and is uninterested in love and advancing her career. She struggles to hide her real interest in and dedication to her current role as a convenience store clerk, as she knows she won’t be understood and accept otherwise. A funny, quirky, and occasionally, heartbreaking novella. However, to be fair, I may be biased in part due to my love of Japanese 7-11 and Lawson convenience stores.

 

Honorable Mentions:

index (8) imc_9781632152855_270 index (9) index (10) index (11)

Tales From the Inner City – Shaun Tan

Lazarus: The First Collection – Greg Rucka, Michael Lark

The Long-Legged Fly – James Sallis

Silent City – Alex Segura

Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life– Eric Klinenberg

Trent’s Top Ten of 2018

The top titles I read this year turned out to be mostly crime fiction.  A few other genres sneak in, but I have them mostly relegated to honorable mentions and to a special section for on-going graphic novel series.  Even if most of the titles are contained with the crime genre, I have tried to read from a diverse array of authors.

36301046Bearskin (2018) – James A McLaughlin

Rice Moore to find safety seclusion from his past has taken a job as a caretaker of a remote Appalachian nature preserve.  However, when he comes across a poached black bear in the woods things start falling apart as soon as he starts making inquiries with the locals who are generally wary of outsiders.  Rice spends a lot of time in the untouched Appalachian wilderness which McLaughlin lovingly writes at length in vivid prose.  This is a thriller that will be enjoyed most by those that also enjoy a walk in the woods.

36590432French Exit (2018) – Patrick deWitt

I adore reading deWitt.  I honestly do not much care what is happening in his stories.  Rather, it is his unique perspective and witty presentation of absurd situations that cannot get enough of. This is not my favorite deWitt book – like I said above, I enjoy a western, and The Sisters Brothers is a masterpiece – but it is a great deal of fun all the same.  In French Exit, deWitt lampoons New York high society.

34219838Bluebird, Bluebird (2017) – Attica Locke

Lark is a rural East Texas town that has had two suspicious deaths in quick succession; one a black out-of-state visitor, the other a white local girl.  Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, decides to head on up to Lark and take the lay of the land.  However, Mathews is still suspended from the Rangers, and the local white sheriff is more interested in sweeping things under the rug than stirring up trouble.  And a strong undercurrent of racial tension running through Lark means there is a lot of trouble to be had.  Full of flawed and interesting characters, rich East Texas atmosphere, and compelling story this was my favorite of the year.

77588The System of the World (2014) – Neal Stephenson

The conclusion of Stephenson’s nearly 3000-page trilogy, Baroque Cycle, is just as ambitious as the first two volumes.  A dense, complicated series that sprawls through history as Europe begins to enter the Age of Enlightenment.  The Baroque Cycle defies to be pigeonholed to a genre; it is part swashbuckling pirate adventure, part history of calculus, part political thriller, and so much more.  Though this series was sometimes a slog it is also the series I continue to contemplate and itch for more.  Perhaps, Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon will be the balm.

11866295Doc (2011) – Mary Doria Russell

I enjoy a western.  There is something about the legends we have constructed around the historical figures and locations of the time that captivate me.  In Doc, Russell does just that by blending fact in fiction as young Dr. John Henry Holliday, also known as Doc Holliday, begins practicing dentistry on the Texas frontier.  Holliday finds it difficult to pay bills on dentistry alone and soon takes up professional gambling and befriends the Earp brothers.  The rest is history… mostly.

9547675A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011) – Lawrence Block

A Drop of the Hard Stuff is the seventeenth, and likely final, book in the Matthew Scudder series.  While this is a good installment in the series, its selection in this list is so that I can recognize the phenomenal series.  The series begins with a disillusioned Matthew Scudder in 1970s New York that has quit his job with the NYPD and taken up unlicensed PI work and drinking.  Scudder ages in real time and as the series progress Scudder grows and changes with the world around him.  He stops drinking, starts attending AA, and makes and loses friends and relationships.   By the end of the series, Scudder is both the same man and a very different one.  The series spans four decades and it is intensely rewarding to journey along with Scudder as he and New York evolve with time.

52408Queenpin (2007) – Megan Abbot

This was the most fun I had with a book this year. The unnamed narrator, a young woman with limited prospects, takes a job keeping books at a small nightclub.  Soon she begins practicing some shady accounting and is taken under the wing of the infamous and ruthless Gloria Denton.  Casinos, racetracks, heists – all the money in the city runs through Gloria before it makes its way to the big bosses out of town.  Gloria will provide access to the action and the lavish lifestyle if only the narrator can keep from falling for the wrong guy.  Megan Abbott takes the bones of the same old, time-tested gangster story and gives it new life.  By the end symbols of toxic masculinity are kicked apart and lay shattered and bloody on the floor.

7896558The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970) – George V. Higgins

Eddie recently got jammed up by the cops while driving around Vermont with a truck full of stolen booze.  Now that he’s back in Boston with a little time before his sentencing, he’s hoping Foley, a local cop, can put a good word in for him if he feeds Foley a little information.  Eddie, who’s still running guns for the local mob, wants to rat on his source of guns, not the mob boss that Foley is aiming for.  Eddie might not want to go to jail but he’d in an uncomfortable position if people knew he is ratting.  Everyone has an angle and friends are friends only until they aren’t.  Elmore Leonard style dialogue drives this novel that Leonard also called the best crime novel ever written.

592676.jpgThe Grifters (1963) – Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson is not exactly known for invoking the warm and fuzzies with his novels.  If you are searching for something to brighten your day or your view of humanity, look elsewhere.  The Grifters starts with Roy Dillion, a successful short con man, having a bad day.  An easy con goes awry, and he gets an unlucky slug in the stomach that causes unexpected and lasting damage.  While laid up healing Roy’s structured life continues to slip away as he tries to balance the three competing women in his life.

33275967In a Lonely Place (1947) – Dorothy B. Hughes

For the last several years crime novels are the genre that has made up the majority of my reading.  So, when I stumble across an article from an author that I respect, Megan Abbott in this case, and she is calling out In a Lonely Place as a groundbreaking, and subversive novel canon to the genre, my ears perk up, and my to-read list grows and so should yours.  Read my recent Read it or Weep summary here.

Best Continuing Series:

35606630Giant Days, Vol. 7 (2018) – John Allison (Author) and Liz Fleming (Illustrations)

This British bildungsroman centers on three university students as they transition into the complex world of adulthood and living on their own.  Even though the young adults are frequently melodramatic and angsty – as one would expect – it is a series that is immensely humorous, fun, and finds the joy in life even feels hopeless and chaotic.

34228009Lumberjanes, Vol 7: A Bird’s-Eye View (2017) – Shannon Watters, Kat Leyh, Ayme Sotuyo

Though I no longer even make an attempt to maintain an up-to-date awareness of teen and juvenile publishing, I make sure to know when the next Lumberjanes is to be released.  I was on the verge of dropping the series as a few of the volumes had been a little lackluster, but A Bird’s-Eye View was so pleasantly absurd that I am fulling back on the Lumberjanes bandwagon.  The Lumberjanes inhabit a diverse and adventure-filled world where obstacles are overcome through teamwork and acceptance.

Honorable Mentions:

35604006   37491890   25489134   19161852   25365

Varina (2018) – Charles Frazier

Monstress Vol. 3 (2018) – Majorie Liu (Writer) and Sana Takeda (Artist)

The Bear and Nightingale (2017) – Katherine Arden

The Fifth Season (2015) – N.K. Jemisin

Out (1997) – Natsuo Kirino and Stephen Synder (Translator)

 

Trent’s Top 10 of 2017

Top Ten of 2017

2017 was another excellent year in publishing.  Unfortunately, I missed large swathes of this year’s best; Celeste Ng’s Little Fire’s Everywhere, Roxanne Gay’s Hunger, and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and Nightingale are all glaring omissions from my list as I was too busy catching up on previous year’s best.  However, here are the ten best that I read in 2017.  Ordered by earliest read.

 

leviathanLeviathan Wakes by James S.A. Correy

As an idealist XO finds himself and his crew at the center of political tensions between Earth, Mars, and the Belt threatening to devolve into war, his path crosses with a jaded detective in search for a missing woman.  Leviathan Wakes kicks of the epic space opera series The Expanse – seven of an anticipated nine novels have been published – that gets better with each book.

 

between the world and meBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates writes in the form of a letter to his son about the construct of race in America.  Powerfully written, this will inevitably trigger an emotional reaction to the reader.

 

 

 

norse mythNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman provides with this slim volume a simple yet elegant retelling of a selection of Norse myths that form a vague narrative arc.

 

 

 

index cardThe Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated by Helaine Olen & Harold Pollack

Personal finance is very often a confusing and stressful topic.  Olen and Pollack attempt to circumvent complexity and anxiety by outlining 10 simple rules that can fit on a single index card.

 

 

Kingdom ConsKingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera

Herrera is like no one else I have read.  Cons is a parable crossed with noir, where extravagance is juxtaposed to humble.  Separate worlds are made permeable by corruption, ambition, and desire.

 

 

 

BitchPlanet_05-1Bitch Planet, Vol 2 by Kelly Sue DeConnick

DeConnick credits the creation of B Planet partly as a reaction to fan criticism of a perceived feminist agenda she imparted during her tenure writing for Marvel Comic’s Captain Marvel.  In this over-the-top graphic novel any woman deemed “noncompliant” is shipped to an off-world women’s prison referred to as B Planet.  Suggested for mature audiences.

 

 

Elements of EloquenceThe Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth

This accessible dive into rhetorical devices is easily the most fun I had with a book this year.  Why are some phrases memorable and others forgettable? Rhetoric.  How does that make for a truly enjoyable read? No clue.

 

 

 

Dear FahrenheitDear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Snarky librarian Spence shares letters she wrote to books that she had “relationships” with.  Dear Fahrenheit is the literary equivalent of having a conversation with a librarian over a few drinks – very entertaining and will undoubtedly add books to your to-read list.

 

 

MonstressMonstress Vol 2 by author Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda

Takeda’s gorgeous illustrations bring to life a steampunk inspired world where a young woman seeks answers about her mother and while staving off the dangerous and otherworldly power within her.  Begin with Volume 1.

 

 

 

in the woodsIn the Woods by Tana French

A masterful psychological thriller masquerading as an Irish police procedural this is the best of both worlds.  You might recognize Tana French as her eighth novel in her Dublin Murder Squad series, The Trespasser graced multiple best of 2016 lists. Start anywhere in the series, but find time to return to In the Woods.

 

Honorable Mention: The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed our Minds by Michael Lewis; Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders; Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel; Kristan Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset; several books in Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series.
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